Federal regulators announced Thursday that nursing home operators must resume regular submission of staffing-level information this summer. But one industry expert warned not to overdo it.

Providers must have second-quarter staffing numbers to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services by Aug. 14. Meanwhile, staffing data submitted for the end of 2019 will be captured for public posting and ratings.

Steven Littlehale

CMS recommends that first-quarter data be submitted but does not mandate it. Providers probably shouldn’t do it, believes industry expert Steven Littlehale, a gerontological clinical nurse specialist and chief innovation officer at Zimmet Healthcare Services Group.

“While Q1 data will not be used in Five-Star, if you choose to submit it, it will be publicly accessible and be possibly used by others,” Littlehale cautioned. ”Secondly, COVID-19 hit our nation hard, but not equally. Certain markets were severely hit, while others had no cases. Five-Star doesn’t adjust for these geographic variances.

“I would be careful in sharing data externally that isn’t required, but keep meticulous documentation on your staffing and all your attempts to provide appropriate staff to your residents,” he added.

About 60% of providers submitted staffing information as usual this year, CMS noted Thursday. In March, the agency issued a blanket waiver freeing providers to concentrate on more urgent matters related to coronavirus conditions.

Now, however, is the time to bring back some previous duties and put more emphasis on staffing levels again, CMS leaders said.

Thursday’s announcement also included the withdrawal of a provision that automatically dropped many providers’ star ratings due to staffing challenges. Now operators will have a chance to fix disputed  issues in the staffing domain while CMS keeps the numbers in question off Nursing Home Compare.

“I believe that CMS has been fair in how they have managed Five-Star during this pandemic,” Littlehale said. “While some providers have benefitted from COVID-19 related temporary holds in the system, others have not. In this latest memorandum, effort was made to continue this balanced approach, while slowly returning to ‘normal.’”